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I have what I have!

Silk Way Rally 2011, Dakar series

Vnesheconombank Rally-Raid Team

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As competitors in the Silk Way Rally, Russia’s most challenging rally, we have enjoyed enormous support from the outset. From the start on Red Square, where it seemed that everybody there was wishing us luck in making the finish line, through Russia’s toughest driving conditions in the Volga Valley, the Caucasus and Southern Russia we have had overwhelming support and good wishes from the public.

Our Team, the Vnesheconombank RRT team included:

Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 2

Pilot – Anton Grigorov (that’s me)

Co-pilot – Sergey Mishin

Nissan Patrol

Pilot – Alexander Oleynikov

Co-pilot – Elena Lavrova

There were also four mechanics, three drivers, one reporter (Natalya Zaitseva), one team manager (and also my wife, Yulia), seven vehicles and two trailers.

We made the decision to take part in the rally only about eight weeks before it started. Besides dealing with many organizational issues, our most urgent priority was to seriously revamp the car and test it in action.

Two weeks before the rally we found a great “sandbox” located 150 km from Rostov. There, for the first time in my life, I tried driving on sand and gained some essential skills. After 5-6 hours of training we flew back to Moscow in the evening. That was it; all the preparation we had for Russia’s most challenging rally. Not much, is it? Oh well, we knew we would practice during the race itself, during the first and second stages.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Luzhniki. At our first bivouac in Luzhniki I realized that I know a lot of rally people, and that many people know me. It was a nice feeling.

Technical checks. My vehicle’s homologation (Type Approval), which is compulsory to meet the requirements of the A.S.O. (Amaury Sport Organisation), has expired for particular issues, including the life of the vehicle and its gear, parts, etc., so in the end I was moved to the Super Production category, which includes those who actually fight for the top places in the general classification.

There was nothing else for me to do but agree and get to business!

Red Square. The opening ceremony.

I arrived at Vasilievsky from Luzhniki around 7 pm.

Dozens of times I’ve seen the podium and now for the first time I will be standing on it myself, an exciting and memorable moment.

There were lots of guests, people I know, and friends. Now, after everybody has received team baseball caps and t-shirts, I can clearly see that there are very many of us, Vneshcombank people, team members and their fans.

When I think about it now, I remember waiting for a long time, with the beginning and the end in heavy rain. But the podium is a moment of my life that I will never forget. It was amazing!

I remember driving around Moscow with racing wannabes in normal everyday road cars trying to compete with us. I remember the excitement of starting a new journey.

All would start the following day.

July 10, Sunday


The first real day of the rally. Checking equipment and teams. Overall readiness evaluation.

From our first liaison to the start line is 310 km, and we have 3.5 hours. This means an average speed of 90 km/h. Taking into account getting out of Moscow, traffic lights, transit cities and towns and fuelling, we need to be in a hurry. Being late means penalty minutes.

To tell you the truth, there was not enough time allocated for all the rally liaisons, so it was impossible not to break the rules, and many people could not make them. I still don’t understand why the organizers decided on this, especially seeing as those who violated the rules were also fined (including, for example, Firdaus Kabirov who took second place on the podium).

We have a flat tire on the way, so we have to use a tire jack. We enter the pre-start zone only two minutes before the deadline. We were driving so fast.

The start for the first special stage was organized at the Kulikovo field. The Administration of the Tula Oblast was well prepared, and the Governor himself came to start the race.

We had 260 km of cross country ahead of us. It started to rain. I was nervous before the start. It was my first time!

This SS was unforgettable. In the middle of it the road was so muddy that all-wheel jeeps with sports tires were completely out of control at several places, and were moving slower than pedestrians!

We crossed two river shallows and one challenging hill covered in mud. Several cars were stuck, but we made it. I was ecstatic. I was very proud of myself, filled with joy for being able to come through.

After the finish line I found out that we were in 39th place and our second car was in 27th. The leader beat us by 50 minutes, and our second car by 15 minutes.

4 hours and 15 minutes passed very quickly.

Our car wash took about three hours! We even had to take off the tires. The mechanics were already exhausted before repairs and maintenance even started!

Day two

July 11. Lipetsk-Volgograd. Special Stage – 480 km.

The first sand, lots of cross-country, a few speedways, and lots of equipment. This day turned out to be a real test!

Liaison, start of a special stage. Our crew started after the leading KAMAZes. This meant that the sand had already been rutted to a great extent.

About 50 km from the start we saw Oleinikov’s car broken down. The team could not afford to lose the second crew. We took the 3 ton Nissan by tow-rope and dragged it for several kilometers until the nearest intersection with a sealed public road, and then rushed on.

Receiving external assistance on the road is prohibited. The Nissan lost more than 4 hours on repairs, and, in the end, they did meet the special stage time limit and were given a 14 hour penalty.

Turning back, I understand that after this break our second crew could not fight for the podium, and Sasha stopped chasing others and started to concentrate on getting to the finish line. In the end this approach allowed both of our crews to get there. Every dark cloud has a silver lining, as they say.

Our first sand

Before the dunes we flattened the tires up to one atmosphere, and there it started…

In most impenetrable places the organizers arranged GPS points that had to be collected. To collect a point, it was necessary to be within 90 meters. At this point the GPS equipment would make a long beep. These beeps sounded like music to me.

The car was impeccable; the sand was defeated on the first try.

I felt sorry for the crews which became stuck. They looked like wrecked tanks on the sides of military roads. Some were stuck, some broken down. They were struggling for the prizes.

But you’ve got what you’ve got, so we continued to move forward. After the sand we found out that our compressor was broken, so we had to move quite slowly to the finish line with flattened tires. On the way there, we got a flat tire due to the low tire pressure. But we already knew how to use a tire jack…

We lost at least one hour of driving, but time was not so important for us.

On the way we met a stuck Niva and tried to pull it out. We got stuck ourselves – shovels and ramps under the wheels, and we continued the journey.

That day the race lost 34 SUV’s and 7 trucks. There were lots of retirements and penalties.

Tired and exhausted, but happy, we passed the second test. And we were 33rd, as well as taking 32nd place in general classification.

But most importantly, we were still behind the wheel.

Based on the results of the day we were praised by the head of the race and the KAMAZ-Master crew, Semen Semenovich Yakubov. Nobody expected us to reach the finish line, especially with such a great result!

I was recognized among the experienced drivers!

At the bivouac, KAMAZ-Master, or to be more direct, our great friend Sergei Reshetnikov kindly invited us to take advantage of one of the blessings of civilization, aka a washing machine. What a pleasure to drive in a clean suit! And in addition to this, in Maykop we also got cleaned up, so we came to the finish line looking good!

Day 3 and 4 of the rally: Volgograd-Astrakhan and Astrakhan-Astrakhan were full of adventures. The difficult stages, wearing out the crews and equipment, were very hard for me.

I started to overtake rivals on the road. At the same time I let ahead those overtaking me without regret, in full compliance with the racers’ code – if they are overtaking you, they are going faster so let them go. See you soon!

At Stage 6 (Stavropol-Maykop) one professional crew overtook us three (!) times, and every time because of their co-pilot’s mistakes, we ended up overtaking them! At the end of the day we found out that we were ahead of them. We learned at the bivouac that this crew had overtaken almost all the participants in the middle of the peloton several times. I was laughing at them and proud for us. My co-pilot is a real expert. I’ve learned a lot from him. He is almost solely and completely responsible for the fact that we have reached the final line.

Day 5. Astrakhan-Stavropol

56 jeeps and 32 trucks were at the start. Due to the many retirements of the previous days the Special Stage was shortened from almost 700 to 600 km.

Kalmykia, steppe, dust. It was almost impossible to pursue, and to get ahead, with very difficult navigation. The special stage with higher speeds was very fast.

At first I nearly rolled over a couple of times. Speed, bumps, and washouts made for a perilous mix.

At about the 350 km point, when driving through some village, we stopped next to a shop and got out of the car. The car was immediately surrounded by locals, who, I have to say, were following us in large numbers throughout the race. It was very strange for them to see such a calm crew. All others were driving by like crazy, and there we were, standing and giving autographs.

Meanwhile, the water in our water bottles reached the outside temperature, -35 degrees Celsius. That cold water out of a 1.5 liter bottle was divine! This was when I understood the value and the importance of WATER. You need to experience it; otherwise, you will never start turning-off water when you shave.

During the final 100 km we could not stop admiring the Stavropol landscape. It was spectacularly beautiful – hills, meadows, villages, lakes and ponds, and fields. Amazingly beautiful!

We arrived 21st and our second crew was 22nd, and in the overall standing we also were 21st. Everyone was joking – blackjack! At this place of honor we were destined to remain in the general classification based on the results of the entire race.

Day 6 (Stavropol-Maykop) – was very easy, a drive for fun.

There were two special stages with a total length of 170 km, with a break between them. We had barely started to drive, and the stage was over! But those short special stages were quite challenging in terms of sticking to the itinerary. Sergey Mishin was in charge, and he did well! Of course, there were some mistakes, but the most important thing when dealing with mistakes is to overcome the problem and continue without regret. You’ve got what you’ve got!

Day 7, which for me was the most interesting special stage – driving along a river with dozens of shallows - was canceled due to high water. It was raining in the mountains and I felt cheated. Remember how, as a kid, you felt about jumping in puddles or riding over them on a bicycle? Now imagine driving across a rocky mountain stream in a SUV! It’s a shame we couldn’t do it, but you’ve got what you’ve got, so after taking the protective meshes off the windows, seeing as there was no need for them, we left towards our goal, the finish line.

It took us more than 8 hours(!) to drive 350 km from Maykop to Sochi, with horrible traffic, an old one-lane road, and no assistance whatsoever from the local Kuban authorities. We managed to be right on-time.

Finish line podium, accepting congratulations. Semen Semenovich poured half a bottle of champagne on me, and then I did what I’ve seen a million times on TV. I took that bottle and started to splash champagne all over people. Mishin got some too. I was ecstatic.

I saw the eyes of my kids and I could see them feeling proud of their dad. I saw my friends and people I knew who had come from Moscow and St. Petersburg to share the joy of victory with me. It was so great!

By that time no one was surprised by our consistent driving. We were simply driving. Our rightfully chosen tactic, where I was making fewer mistakes in piloting and the co-pilot fewer mistakes in navigating, was not aimed at competing with other crews. We were driving not to overcome others, but ourselves, finding the right balance between speed, safety, and equipment. We used a simple principle – drive when you can see, and don’t drive when you can’t see. We were thinking about our vehicle, too, and this gave us an unexpected but logical result: steady and consistent driving brought us to the finish line podium!

We did it! I did it!

I couldn’t have done it without support, the support of my friends, family, and colleagues - your support. I was getting dozens of text messages each night. I did not have a right to fail. I could not even imagine a picture of a crashed jeep with the words Vnesheconombank Rally-Raid Team on the side. I was destined to arrive at the finish line, and was not the last one there!

By the way, my time was the second in the Production category, in the category that I was supposed to participate in originally. Our second crew received a trophy for this second place and kindly gave one of the two trophies to us, so I even came home with a trophy!

My special thanks go to Sasha and Lena for allowing me to bring the idea, which seemed hopeless at the time, to life. By thanking them I’d like to thank the entire crew, who worked day and night for a single possible result. I’d like to thank the mechanics. I very much enjoyed working with them.

I also would like to mention how well the race was organized. ASO’s racers from France were impressed. They couldn’t imagine such comfort at Dakar! Bivouacs, service for all the race participants (1.5 thousand people), hot showers, delicious food and many other nice things should be specially noted. Thank you, organizers, for all this.

Now what?

I often dream about the race at night. It was emotionally and physically challenging. I started to drive more carefully in the city. I started to value things that I was taking for granted before.

My good friend, Maris Saukans, asked me during the race to take part in Dakar 2012, which would take place in Argentina, Chile and Peru from January 1 to January 15. 9,000 km of challenging cross country! I couldn’t even dream about this! Although, three months ago I couldn’t imagine that I would be participating in the Silk Way Rally either. After giving it some thought for about a week, I agreed.

This year for the first time in the history of Dakar an electric vehicle will participate in the race. The vehicle is OSCar eO, and right there, in the Latvian team, I will be going in a third generation OSCar vehicle. My task is to stay next to the electric vehicle helping it to reach the finish line, although I imagine I may need help myself.

You can watch how eO is being built in real time, as well as the Latvian team presentation at http://driveeo.com/.

This is an enormous responsibility! News about the Dakar’s first electric vehicle will be all across the global media! Realizing that I do not plan to compete for trophies (and taking into consideration that I was not planning to be there at all) my goal, as always, remains to reach the finish line, which is exactly what the team expects from me, I can say that I am ready! See you at Dakar!

At the race I wrote a short poem and dedicated it to one good person on his birthday, which happened to be on the night of the awards. I’ve never written poems before, but this time the words just came to me. I think the poem totally answers the question of why we take part in all of this.

Please don’t judge my writing very harshly.

Our whole life is a game.

But does it have an aim?

Is it caviar for dinner?

Or an idea to deliver?

There are players in every game.

Each aspiring for fame.

We are given time and nothing more

To find out that it’s people and not things we must adore.

Without people life is useless

It is empty, it is clueless.

The purpose is for us to find,

Yes! Open your eyes, don’t stay blind.

We start this game each at our birth

We come for a purpose to planet Earth.

And none of us has a right to choose

To leave before we find our clues.

The whole life is a game… And the meaning of it

Is to make the life of others complete

When you say YES to life, you find this clue.

And give life the meaning that is inside of YOU.

The challenge for those who dare, the dream for those who stayed at home

Thierry Sabine, the founder of Dakar

I have what I have!

Anton Grigorov

July, 2011